Why Alabama didn’t win a Heisman until last night

Heisman: Emotional evening for newest Heisman member – ESPN.

1. Timing. Alabama has had two great eras. Everyone knows about the Bryant era, but the first was under Wallace Wade (1923-1930) and Frank Thomas (1931-1946). The Heisman wasn’t given out until 1935, halfway through the period. Wade and Thomas had several great players from 1923-1934. If the first Heisman had been given out one year earlier, there is every chance that the first winner would have been Don Hutson, who pretty clearly was the best player in college football in 1934.

2. Defense. Most of Alabama’s best players have been defensive players. Only one defensive player has ever won the Heisman, and he was a defensive back who played some offense and returned kicks. Players like Lee Roy Jordan and Derrick Thomas could easily have been the “most outstanding college football player”.

3. Team mentality. Coach Bryant in particular played a lot of players, and very rarely rode one quarterback even before he installed the wishbone. If you watch footage of some of his sixties teams, he’s playing three or four quarterbacks when his starter is someone like Joe Namath or Ken Stabler. It’s weird, actually. But it worked.

4. The wishbone. Coach Bryant’s best teams, the dominant seventies era squads, ran the wishbone. The way that system works, no running back is going to get more than at most forty percent of the team’s carries. If a wishbone player is going to win the Heisman, it’s probably going to be a quarterback, but as noted, he was using three or four quarterbacks and none put up huge running totals.

5. Namath. Joe would have won the Heisman his senior year, in my opinion, except that he had knee problems which hurt his mobility and brain problems that caused Bryant to keep him in a rotation system rather than riding a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Bama won the national championship that year, but Namath only attempted 100 passes.

6. Dumb luck. Just one of those things.

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